Sale on canvas prints! Use code ABCXYZ at checkout for a special discount!

Newsletter Summer 2009 Number Three

Blogs: #50 of 72

Previous Next View All
Newsletter Summer 2009 Number Three

NEWSLETTER Summer 2009 No. 3

Greetings from the mountains of western Maine!

Waves of wildflowers have been going over our meadow all summer long. Now the white and yellow of midsummer has given way to the gold and purple of almost-fall. Summer in Maine is so ephemeral—blink and it’s gone!

August’s painting was quite a departure from my botanical work, but I just couldn’t resist it. When I caught the tiger swallowtail butterfly last June, I got one last photo of him with the sunlight shining through his wings. He looked like a stained glass window, with brilliant color all outlined in black. So I took my photo of the underside of the butterfly’s hind wing, played with it in Adobe Photoshop, and used it to develop a kaleidoscopic composition for an oil painting that is reminiscent of a Gothic rose window.

The circle has been a universal human symbol for the spiritual in art since the beginning of recorded history. It can be seen everywhere from Tibetan mandalas to French Gothic cathedrals. (Mandala is a Sanskrit word that means “circle,” and signifies a circular, symbolic art form.) I have been experimenting with the mandala as an art form for more than thirty-five years now, revisiting it from time to time in different formats. I never get tired of exploring its possibilities.

This one was painted on a shaped 20” diameter canvas with water-mixable oils. I developed a paper template from the digital file of my photograph and used it to produce the pattern. Painting it was very soothing, almost like meditation. I worked from the center out, repeating the patterns as I moved around the circle. The edges of the canvas are painted black to match the background, so it needs no frame.

My goal was to present the beauty of the butterfly’s wing in a manner that entices you to stop and look at it in a new way. Sometimes a fresh, different presentation gets your attention in a way that a straightforward image never could. This is my final homage to the tiger, and summer’s last hurrah.

From there my attention turned back to the botanical illustration. I have just started a page in my study book about evening primroses. They have been blooming in our back yard now for several weeks. A common biennial wildflower, Oenothera biennis has lemon-colored flowers that open in the evening. Oil made from the seeds contains an omega-6 essential fatty acid, the active ingredient that makes it useful in a number of medicinal applications. The ripening seedpods form a beautiful pattern clustered on the growing stems.

This month’s Collector’s tip comes from photographer Dirk MacKnight, of Andover, Maine: If you buy a digital photograph or art print, be sure that you know what you are getting. For best quality and longevity, get prints that were made on acid-free paper with pigment-based inks. Color photocopies on standard paper are not lightfast, and an artist should not be charging the same price for them as for a print on archival materials that will last 75 to 100 years or more. (You can see Dirk’s work online at his flickr site: )

The free art card this month is a single tiger swallowtail, a straightforward bit of naturalist work. I have attached the file here for you to print. Art cards (or ACEO’s) are a collectible form of miniature art the same size as a baseball trading card. Print this one on good stiff photo paper, cut it out, and start your own collection, if you wish. I give you permission to print or reproduce this image as you choose.

For more information on “Swift River Treasures,” my artmaking process, or recent work, or to check out my blog, see my website at You can also search for me on as Betsy Gray Bell under the “Artists” button in the top menu bar. (The drop-down box under it has a search feature.) Fine Art America offers a print-on-demand service, matting, framing, and shipping.

For those of you who live in Maine, my recent work will be on display at Bruce and Adrienne Little’s Frost Farm Gallery in Norway, Maine, from October 2 to 31. The title of the exhibit is “Swift River Treasures: Original Naturalist Works,” and the opening reception is Friday, October 2 from 5:00 to 8:00 p.m. Brad Hooper will be providing live acoustic music that evening. For more information about the exhibit or the gallery, you can check out their website at I have begun posting the Swift River Treasures collection online on Fine Art America, but this will be the first time that the originals will be offered for sale.

Picasso says that an artist paints not to ask a question, but because he has found something, and he wants to share—he cannot help it—what he has found. (from Walking on Water by Madeleine L’Engle)

Thanks for joining me in the journey. I hope that you enjoy looking at the art as much as I have enjoyed making it! I would love to hear from you, too, so please do reply with comments.